Klinsmann still tweaking U.S. lineup
Forget that closed-door scrimmage against Belgium in Sao Paulo next week. As far as the U.S. World Cup team is concerned, Saturday's final send-off match against Nigeria in Jacksonville, Florida, is the last dress rehearsal, the closest the Americans will come to the real thing before their World Cup campaign kicks off against Ghana on June 16.
Or so everyone thought.
On the eve of his team's last official game before Brazil, manager Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear that the starting XI he picks at EverBank Field probably won't be the one he shows a little more than a week from now for the Yanks' Group G curtain-raiser in Natal.
"We want to continue to fine-tune and improve," Klinsmann told reporters at Friday's pre-match news conference. "With Nigeria, we're talking about a team that will give us hopefully a lot of answers to many of your questions."
Like, does he already have a lineup in mind for the opener?
"Absolutely every coach has that at this point," Klinsmann said. "Still, this is why you have these send-off games, to give minutes to players who are right there. So you won't see exactly the lineup [Saturday] that we have in mind."
The coach didn't name names, but a particular area of interest personnel-wise will continue to unfold on the left side of the field.
DaMarcus Beasley started at full-back with Alejandro Bedoya in front of him on May 27 against Azerbaijan, but Klinsmann replaced them with Timmy Chandler and Brad Davis, respectively, in last weekend's 2-1 win over Turkey in New Jersey.
Davis picked up a minor leg ailment during Friday's stadium training session that could potentially impact his availability against Nigeria, according to reports. But it will be fascinating to see if the coach goes back to Chandler, the rangy German-American who had an uneven performance against the Turks -- including a late gaffe that lead to the lone goal the Yanks conceded.
If it's Beasley who gets the call, keeper Tim Howard, for one, believes he's up the challenge against Nigeria -- and beyond.
"I love when Beas plays cause he's wiry and he's learned how to defend and he has a presence there because he's so experienced," said Howard, who will make his 100th international appearance for the U.S. in Saturday's match.
"I feel very confident with DaMarcus because I've played with him for a long time. There's a certain trust level there."
Whoever plays, though, every U.S. starter will be tested. If the Turks were a more formidable foe than the result against the Yanks indicated, Brazil-bound Nigeria is another step up in class. They were scheduled specifically because their playing style and technical abilities compare favorably to Ghana. But they also bring other elements that will push the Americans to their limits.
"They're very fit and physical which is good for us because it will give us a little bit of a wake-up call now," Klinsmann said. "This is what at this point we really need."
Some would also suggest the U.S. needs to settle on a formation. The coach favored a 4-2-3-1 set most of last year, switched to a more aggressive 4-4-2 with a diamond-shaped midfield in each of the Yanks' last three games, then adjusted halfway though last game after Turkey created chance after early chance at Red Bull Arena.
After the break, Klinsmann pulled attacking midfielder Michael Bradley back toward his own goal for added defensive protection. Could we see the same from the beginning Saturday? Klinsmann wouldn't say, instead making the (valid) point that too much emphasis is placed on formations. Either way, it's clear his tinkering is far from done.
"We're still in the building phase," he said. "We still have 10 days to go. We're not done with all the work we've got to put into their legs and into their minds. It will still go on until after the Belgium scrimmage in Sao Paulo."